The early months of fall are pretty much stacked with film festivals. From the end of August, when Venice and Telluride kick off the season, to the prestigious and star-studded selections at Toronto and New York in September and October, to the increasingly important AFI and Rome film festivals, globe-trotting cinephiles could happily go back to back from the late summer pretty much up to Christmas hopping from one festival to another.
Perhaps not as high profile, but just as stacked, is the annual BFI London Film Festival, which gets its 56th installment underway next week. The festival has shied away from high-profile premieres in recent years ("Fantastic Mr. Fox" was the last major one three years back), instead focusing on bringing the best of Cannes, Sundance and other fests to the home crowd.
One could certainly nitpick some of the choices made by incoming festival director Clare Stewart this time around — major and available festival hits like "The Master," "Silver Linings Playbook," "A Place Beyond The Pines" and "Life Of Pi" are nowhere to be found, and some of the gala selections, like "Hyde Park On Hudson" and "Great Expectations," fall firmly in the middle of the road. But dig a little deeper and there's still a wealth of pleasures to be found, and to get you ready for the reviews and interviews we'll be bringing you next week, we've picked out ten major highlights of the fest. Check them out below, and come back for full coverage of the BFI London Film Festival from October 10th to October 21st.
Synopsis: Long-term love will be put to the test when elderly woman Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke, which affects both her husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
Our Verdict: The public perception of Austrian director Michael Haneke, as far as it exists, is that he's a chilly, distant sort of chap. We're not sure how anyone can watch the gut-punch power of "Amour," or the emotion of "Code Unknown," and believe that, but there we go. But the director's latest film, which saw him pick him up his second Palme D'Or (only three years after his last, "The White Ribbon," won the same prize), is as likely as anything to change that. Following an elderly couple (played by French cinema legends Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, with Isabelle Huppert as their daughter) put to the test after the wife has a stroke, most have received the film as the most humanistic work he's ever made. Which is not to say that Haneke's pulling his punches, just that it's a little more accessible — as our Cannes review said, it's "a tough, harrowing picture, but also one that, curiously, remains optimistic and full of heart." The film's tipped to become the rare foreign picture that crosses over into the major Oscar categories, but even if it doesn't, it's certain to be a must-see for film fans in London and elsewhere.
When? Thursday 11th and Sat 13th at the Curzon Mayfair
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need To Know: There are a few Oscar hopefuls in the LFF line-up, but the most serious is the one that seems to take the "Social Network"/"Moneyball" slot, of a smart, entertaining, grown up kind of picture, and it's a film from what would have seemed like an unlikely source: Ben Affleck. But since "Argo" premiered at Telluride a month or so back, it seems to have cemented the actor's status as a serious filmmaker, off the back of his critical and commercial hits "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town." Picking up a hot Black Listed script once intended to be directed by producer George Clooney, Affleck's film is, according to our Telluride review, "extraordinarily suspenseful, extremely well-told and effortless in its complex tonal balance." It's, by all accounts, a piece of intelligent, funny and thrilling popular entertainment — with terrific performances from Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Scoot McNairy — and as such, one of our most anticipated films of the LFF.
When? Wed 17th at the Odeon Leicester Square, Thursday 18t at the Odeon West End, and Saturday 20th at the Curzon Mayfair.
Synopsis: A family of Liverpool policemen are torn apart during the investigation of the murder of a young girl.
What You Need To Know: As has been the case in the last few years, the program of the LFF isn't swimming with world premieres, and those that are in there haven't, curiously, been terribly well-publicized. The one that we're most looking forward to (and have been for some time), is "Blood," a remake of TV drama "Conviction" from a few years back, by BAFTA winner Bill Gallagher ("Occupation"). Marking the second feature from director Nick Murphy ("The Awakening"), it sees Brian Cox, Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham as a family of lawmen, and if that wasn't enough to intrigue you, the always-excellent Mark Strong is also involved. Promising to be a complex Sidney Lumet-ish cop drama, we've heard good word out of screenings so far, and we'll be bringing your our review of the film next week.
When? Thursday 11th and Friday 12th at the Odeon West End, Wed 17th at the Rich Mix.
Synopsis: The story of Terri Hooley, the Godfather of Northern Irish Punk, who through his legendary Good Vibrations record store helped to discover bands like The Undertones.
What You Need To Know: The LFF has always had a good record with music-related movies, and that's as true as ever this year, with an entire section of the program, "Sonic," dedicated to the genre, including world premieres of Rolling Stones concert film "Crossfire Hurricane" and Stone Roses-related coming-of-age comedy "Spike Island." But the one we're most looking forward to is "Good Vibrations," from "Cherrybomb" directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn. The film might have shed some of its bigger prospective names, like Michael Fassbender and Steve Coogan, but the cast, which does include the likes of Jodie Whittaker and Dylan Moran, is promising enough, and in particular we hear the central performance from Richard Dormer is the sort of thing that makes stars. Plus producer Andrew Eaton told us last year that it's essentially a Belfast-set version of "24 Hour Party People," and given that he produced that now-classic Michael Winterbottom film, that sounds like good news to us. Plus Steven Soderbergh collaborator David Holmes (who also produces) is handling the soundtrack, which should make it even more of a pleasure to listen to.
When? Friday 19th at the Odeon West End, Sat 20th at the Vue West End, Sunday 21st at the Ritzy.
Synopsis: A Danish boat is taken over by Somali pirates, leading to months of negotiation by the ship's owners, as the crew fear for their life and sanity.
What You Need To Know: We walked into this at Venice this year essentially on a whim after another screening was sold out, and it turned out to be the best surprise — and arguably our favorite film, of the festival. A docudrama-style tale about the fictional capture of a Danish cargo freighter that threatens to steal the thunder of next year's Paul Greengrass/Tom Hanks film on similar subject matter, "Captain Philips," director Tobias Lindholm (a recent collaborator of Thomas Vinterberg on "The Hunt", and co-writer of cult TV series "Borgen") fails to sensationalize the material, or include anything that doesn't feel entirely truthful. Grippingly shot, beautifully acted and enormously powerful, it's lingered in the mind over the last few months, and is thoroughly recommended for anyone attending the festival.
When? Rich Mix on Thursday 18th, Sat the 20th and Sun 21st at the Vue West End.
Synopsis: A beloved kindergarten teacher is falsely accused of molesting one of the children in his class, turning his small community against him.
What You Need To Know: Despite making one of the best films of the 1990s with "Festen," things have been trickier for Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg since, with English language films like "It's All About Love" and "Dear Wendy" falling mostly on deaf ears. But in his second team-up with writer Tobias Lindholm ("A Hijacking"), he came roaring back with "The Hunt" picking up Best Actor at Cannes for star Mads Mikkelsen. The film's divided The Playlist team so far: Kevin walked out at Cannes, but Jess adored the film when she saw it in Karlovy Vary, praising Mikkelsen as "masterly" and concluding that the film "may prove stressful, frustrating, even enraging, but it's also an unbelievably effective watch, that, if nothing else, signals an undeniable return to form for Vinterberg. Sounds like it might be the cause of some of the festival's most heated post-screening pub arguments…
When? Thursday 11th and Sat 13th at the Odeon West End, Mon 15th at the Vue West End.
Synopsis: An ambitious ad executive is brought in to help on the campaign for a vote to oust Chile's dictator General Pinochet.
What You Need To Know: His first and second films, the terrific "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem," certainly made us sit up and pay attention to Chilean director Pablo Larrain, but given that the films barely got a U.S. release, we weren't sure he'd ever catch on to a wider audience. But the final part of his trilogy looking at his country under Pinochet's rule premiered at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes, and proved one of the best received films of the festival in general. Shot on U-matic video to give it a period feel, and led by a great performance by Gael Garcia Bernal, the film went on to win the top prize in the sidebar, and land U.S. distribution from Sony Pictures Classics. Our review certainly suggests that it was all deserved: James Rocchi wrote back in May that the film was "superbly shot, full of human characters, and depicting a galvanizing true story while also showing us the hearts and lives of the people on both sides of the vote." It's in the main competition selection at the LFF, and might well be a good bet to win the top prize there too.
When? Mon 15th and Tuesday 16th at the Odeon West End. “Rust & Bone”
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson's 2005 short story involving a killer-whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in a freak accident, and the nightclub bouncer (Matthias Schoenhaerts) who she begins a curious relationship with.
Our Verdict: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. And for the most part, he cemented that status in Cannes this year with "Rust & Bone." The talk of the film was a "predictably fantastic" performance from Cotillard, according to Kevin's review from Cannes, but it seems to be a star-making turn for "Bullhead" lead Schoenhaerts too, given that he's got "acting chops to spare, finding the vulnerability beneath his character's exterior that helps us understand him, even when he's at his selfish worst." And Audiard's no slouch, either. By the end, "you know you are in the hands of a master who is directing with the confidence and command that few possess." Kevin found the film to be "a towering picture we can't wait to see again" — you can read his full review here for more.
When? Sat 13th and Sunday 14th at the Odeon West End.
Synopsis: A frustrated screenwriter finds himself in trouble when two of his friends kidnap a dog belonging to a psychotic mobster.
What You Need To Know: When you discover that a film features a screenwriter as its main character, it's hard not to let your heart sink a little bit: is it going to be the cinematic equivalent of second album syndrome, when musicians write songs about how hard it is to be in a successful touring rock band? But when that film comes from Martin McDonagh, the genius playwright behind "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "The Pillowman," who made a hugely successful film debut with "In Bruges" back in 2008, it gives you a little more confidence. And when that film reunites him with his leading man, Colin Farrell, as well as bringing in Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Corrigan, it starts to look like a very good bet indeed. Kevin didn't flip for the film at TIFF, finding it "overlong and baggy," but other reviews have been keener, and at the very least, there seems to be a consensus that Walken and Rockwell are worth the price of admission alone.
When? Friday 19th and Saturday 20th at the Odeon West End, Sun 21st at the Rich Mix.
Synopsis: A 10-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia enters her school's Koran recitation competition in an attempt to win enough money to buy a bicycle.
What You Need To Know: It's pretty difficult for anyone to make any movie, but Haifaa al Mansour's path to bringing "Wadjda" to the screens was a particularly fraught one. For one, she's a female director from Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, particularly in terms of women's rights. For another, cinemas themselves have been banned in the country for thirty years. And yet, somehow, Al Mansour didn't just to manage to get her coming of age tale made, but managed to make a film that, by all accounts, would have been terrific no matter who made it, or wherever it was shot. Premiering in a sidebar in Venice last month, the film went on to Telluride, picking up glowing reviews everywhere it went, and Sony Pictures Classics picked the film up for the U.S. Comparisons to last year's Middle Eastern hit "A Separation" seem a little lazy, but it's clearly going to be one of the most talked-about films in London this year, and could well pose favorite "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" some serious competition in the First Feature category at the LFF.
When? Thursday 11th and Sunday 14th at the Vue West End.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from October 10th to October 21st.